Playing Style of Famous Chess Players from Past and Present

Chess is one of the most popular board games in the world. It has been played for thousands of years, and it is still played by millions of people today. Many famous people are well known for their chess-playing ability, including Albert Einstein, Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, and many more.

In this blog, I will put some light on the playing style of famous chess players of past and present, and also I will show you games to reveal the playing style of some of them.

There basically are only two styles chess, tactical and positional, but when you put the personality of a player into the game, many other playing styles come into existence.

Let’s look at the playing styles of the top chess players individually:

Playing Style of Active Top Players:

1. Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carsen is known as the Mozart of chess. Vladimir Kramnik labeled him as “The Federer of Chess”, while Garry Kasparov thinks Carlsen is a lethal combination of Fischer and Karpov.

The Norwegian is so good at everything in chess, that he is equally loved by players of past and present. He knows the classics and has fine-tuned his play to the modern-day needs of being always prepared for new engine-based ideas.

I have covered Magnus Carlsen separately in a detailed article.

2. Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura is one of the most entertaining chess players in the world. His playing style is quick, aggressive, and very entertaining making him one of the top chess content creators on the internet.

Plus he is world #2 in Blitz chess ratings. We have written a detailed article to know everything about Hikaru Nakamura.

Check out how Hikaru thinks through a game in a video below:

3. Ian Nepomniachtchi

Nepomniachtchi is one of those rare chess players who Blitz out almost always even in a classical game of chess.

Although a very strong chess player who prepares his games very deeply, somehow he is vulnerable to doing blunders beyond repair.

A proof of this is his performance in the recent chess world championships.

But something that makes him stand out among top GMs of the modern era is the results-producing capability.

Too many games in modern chess end up in a draw, but when Nepomniachtchi is on the board, the odds of win and loss increases.

Nepo is an aggressor when it comes to playing style. He can make a classic chess opening like Scotch an exciting one. Check out his scotch game in a video below, where he left Ding Liren clueless about what to do:

4. Anish Giri

Anish Giri is a positional chess player. Very solid and intelligent in playing every move from start to end.

He is infamous for playing too many drawn games in classical chess, but that’s just a wrong label on Anish Giri’s name, and he doesn’t like it even himself.

According to him, there are top players like Alexander Grischuk who played 7 drawn games against him in a row, but somehow Anish is the one who is asked questions on those drawn games.

No other top chess player gets targeted for drawn chess games, and unfortunately, Anish has become the meme material of drawn games in classical chess.

Besides chess, Anish Giri is also famous for humor and online chess streaming. We have covered Anish Giri in detail in a separate article. Do check that out too.

5. Fabiano Caruana

As a kid, Fabiano Caruana was famous for playing quick attacking chess full of sacrifices, but as he came into mainstream chess of super grandmasters, he had to change his style of play because it no longer works.

According to him, it got revealed on him that when he moved up in ratings, it turned out that you can far from always win with a direct attack.

Now Caruana is a very solid chess player. Some top chess players like Magnus Carlsen think that when it comes to opening preparations, there is no other player who goes as deep as Fabiano Caruana.

His greatest strength is finding complicated moves, and he is very comfortable in playing complicated positions, what Fabi is not good at is sometimes not playing well in simple positions.

Check out what Carlsen says about the greatest strength in Fabiano Caruana’s chess style of play in a video below:

6. Maxime Vachier Lagrave

Baadur Jobava and Richard Rapport are famous chess players known for their attacking style of play, but they both are nothing in comparison to Maxime Vachier Lagrave.

The french super grand master is never shy of throwing a fiery complicated position on the board. A skill that helped him win the blitz world championship just recently because for short games, this is a skill that can incline you towards the top very quickly.

Check out his game in the world cup where he sacrificed the queen in the middle game against Pragg to collapse his whole position and win the game, but remember that’s only one example, Maxime’s whole career is full of such games.

The game against Pragg is in a 4 minutes video below. The king lift at 1:21 is just beautiful:

7. Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja is known as the most dynamic chess player since Bobby Fischer. You never know what’s cooking on the board with a lot of quiet moves when Firouzja is playing. His playing style is complex having very deep meanings, keeping the opponent guessing what’s coming next.

His specialty is that he presses with both colors. He is super fast, but it doesn’t mean he is short of skill when it comes to classical chess. He is already world #4 at it, at just 19 years of age.

Firouzja is one of those special chess prodigies that the world wants to watch and top players want to play against.

Magnus Carlsen said he might won’t play the next world chess championship if Firouzja doesn’t win the Candidates and he did that.

Magnus stepped down and Ding Liren qualified to the world championship and clinched the title from Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Check out devilishly tricky Alreza Firouzja crushing super GMs in a video below:

8. Ding Liren

Ding Liren is an excellent defensive player when it comes to style of play. His style resembles more with Tegran Petrosian, who had a great sense of understanding a potential danger.

That’s the reason why he rarely loses a classical game, and is currently world #3 with a live rating of 2789.

He recently won the World Champion and is now the only Chinese chess world champion. Check out the final moves of his game against Ian in the World Championship decider game:

Ding Liren’s second for the world championship preparation was Richard Rapport who was always there during the games.

9. Levon Aronian

Levon is a d4 player who actually makes the positions exciting as if they are e4 positions. He is a very dynamic chess player when it comes to style of play, and dynamic players are quite good at complex positions, maybe that’s why Levon is a very strong Rapids player.

His exceptional style of play makes him suitable for all sorts of chess, that’s why Aronian won the World Rapid Chess Championship in August 2009 after defeating Ian Nepomniachtchi 3-1. Next year in 2010, he became the world blitz champion leaving behind Radjabov and Carlsen in 2nd and 3rd spots.

In classical chess, he peaked at 2830, which puts him in the list of all time great chess players, and one of the only few players who ever crossed the 2800 mark.

10. Wesley So

Wesley So is a risk free player when it comes to style of play. He is one of those players who plays the game very quietly, and if opponent makes even a slight mistake, he can build the game on it.

Wesley So’s biggest achievement is winning the Fisher Random event, where he beat Magnus Carlsen and became the world champion.

11. Richard Rapport

Richard Rapport is a former prodigy from Hungary, a country very rich in chess culture.

His style of play is very explosive and attacking, something very rare in top level chess. People who know him really well know that Richard Rapport makes chess interesting. He has these natural born chess killer instincts.

In 2017’s Tata Steel event of chess, Richard talked about his style of play in an interview. You can check it out in a short video below:

12. Jan-Krzysztof Duda

In July 2017 Duda became the 1st Polish player who broke the 2700 mark in classical chess ratings. He is currently the world cup winner, and a Candidate inline to set a sight on the next world chess championship.

As far as the style of play is concerned, Duda is a very solid chess player who rarely loses concentration, never tries anything outrageous, and makes his opponents impatient to commit an error.

To know more about Duda’s style of play, check out this video below, where Duda talks about his style, defeating Magnus Carlsen & more!

13. Teimour Radjabov

Teimour Radjabov is known to be a very imaginative and creative chess player when it comes to style of play. He is a grinder who fights till the end, and is always ready for the new challenges in chess.

He will be competing in the upcoming Candidates tournament as a wildcard entry awarded by FIDE as a compensation for him not competing in the last Candidates tournament due to COVID issues.

It will be great to see the veteran Azerbaijani Super GM on how he does in the Candidates tournament.

14. Leinier Dominguez Perez

Leinier is a Cuban born American chess player who is very humble in defining himself as a chess player. According to him, he is not Carlsen or Caruana, but when it comes to style of play he tries to unbalance the positions, which is very dangerous at top level chess.

Maybe that’s the reason why Leinier Dominguez is in the list of top chess players, but not able to fully breach the code and get into the top 10, but anyways, he is a top player, currently sitting at #15 in live chess ratings.

15. Viswanathan Anand

Vishy Anand is in the top level chess scene since decades. His playing style has evolved over time.

Starting as an attacking, quick chess player always up on time, Vishy has experienced all the changes in top level chess in past 35 years.

He is an opportunist with yet very sound attacking style of play, but when it comes to defending, he is equally good at it.

16. Danill Dubov

Danill Dubov’s chess style of play is open ended. Like any modern day grandmaster, he can defend, he can attack, and at times, he will show some great engine preps.

His preparation brilliancy is probably the reason why he was part of team Magnus Carlsen in last world championship match up.

According to his former trainer, GM Sergey Shipov, Danill’s playing style is closest in similarity to former world champion GM Tigran Petrosian, who was famously known for showing both super attacking style of play and super passive moves.

Playing with Danill, an opponent never knows which Danill will show up today.

17. Sergey Karjakin

Segey Karjakin is known as the minister of defense in chess. This is probably due to his preference of avoiding the hyper accelerated positions in chess.

Much like Carlsen, Karjakin’s style of play is based on outplaying his opponents in the middle game. He prepares the openings really well, and usually it’s the tool he uses to get an upper hand over his opponents.

At one point, he was the youngest GM in the world, and the greatest prodigy who is expected to become a world champion at least once. Let’s see if Sergey Karjakin can do it or not?

18. Vidit Gujrathi

Vidit Gujrathi is the 2nd highest rated chess player in India. He has no specific style of play in chess, but the guy is a true definition of making chess a royal game.

Always well dressed and optimistic, Vidit loves the game of chess, and he surely will at some point become the #1 chess player in India.

Vidit is also very famous as a chess streamer and video content creator on Youtube.

Playing Style of Top Players from the Past:

When it comes to popular chess players of past and their style of play, they are not as good as the players of the present times in terms of chess skills, but you also have to consider the resources they had available.

Current chess players have inherited the chess knowledge from these players of the past, plus modern chess players have got the advantage of super computers for preparation.

Still players from the past were very creative and strong players, and if they could play the tournaments today, they are still better than 99% chess players around the world.

Lets look at the playing style of chess players from the past:

1. Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov is a chess grand master who became the youngest ever World Chess Champion at the age of 22. Most people consider him the greatest chess player of all time.

In 1975 at the age of 12 he became the youngest ever candidate for the world title when he played against Anatoly Karpov for the under-14 championship of the USSR.

He won three games, drew seven and lost two. In 1978 he became champion of Moscow and repeated this title five times more in 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1984. In 1985 he won both theunder-16 and under-18 championships of the USSR. In 1986 he won the world under-20 championship in New Delhi, India.

As far as the playing style is considered, Garry Kasparov was a genius when it comes to calculations. He drew fare in his opponents by playing furiously attacking chess, and he was very vocal and confident about his games.

His dedication and love for chess was so high that no one could dethrone him from world champion title between 1995 till 2005, when he retired from chess and went into politics.

Check out his insane calculations and style of play in a video below:

2. Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer is one of the top 3 chess players along with Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov in the world of chess. In terms of style of play, he was a very dynamic styled player who never played for a draw.

Even in drawn positions, Bobby Fischer was known to play it till the dead end, and his endgame technique many times helped him win the games.

Check out Bobby Fischer’s best game from 1976 world championship against Boris Spassky in a video below:

3. Vladimir Kramnik

Vladimir Kramnik was a positional styled player. He was famous for normalizing control of the center from distance with fianchettoed bishops. A style of play still copied by many top chess grandmasters to date.

Although he was a positional player in general, being a world champion he was capable of playing positional games also. There are many nasty tactical games in the database that Kramnik has played, the most famous of them is his win against Anand in their WC match, and the one against Carlsen in Bilbao with White pieces.

His game against Gelfand from 1996 is one of the greatest classics of chess. Check it out in a video below:

4. Anatoly Karpov

Karpov was well known for his positional understanding. His style of play consisted of continuously improving the position with each move. He was a simple no risk no mistakes player always ready to pounce on the mistakes of his opponent.

He was a no mercy player when it came down to even slight mistake by his opponents, and due to that ability he is always compared to Capablanca when it comes to being the most accurate chess players of past.

Check out his most famous game from Linares 1994 in a video below:

5. Wilhelm Steinitz

Wilhelm Steinitz was the Carlsen and Kasparov of his times. A player who ruled the chess world in the 1850s and onward.

He played in the romantic fashion, a style of chess that was very common in his times. His games are full of gambits and sacrifices, but later in his career he changed the total landscape of chess by introducing the positional styled chess to the world.

Check out his most famous game in the video below:

6. Jose Raul Capablanca

Capablanca is known as the greatest endgame player of all time. His games are a gold mine even for the modern day chess players, who study his games to improve the endgame technique.

He was the most untouchable player of his times. A world champion respected in all generations. Some even speculate that if Capablanca came back to life, he can again become a world champion by using the modern tools of preparing for chess games.

His style of play was simple, full of exchanges to a point where he could show his brilliance in the endgame technique. In a period of 10 years, he only lost 2 games, which was quite amazing for that time.

Check out Capablanca’s most famous game in the video below:

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